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View From the Booth: Seattle provides first test of 2011

Seems like just yesterday the LA Galaxy were hosting the Western Conference Championship against FC Dallas.  Hard to wrap my head around the fact that four months have passed, Colorado won the MLS Cup and two new teams have since joined the league. Now it’s time to roll out the balls to begin a new season.

The Galaxy will get an immediate gauge on the level of their play in the first match, in Seattle against the Sounders FC.  Qwest Field will certainly be at fever pitch before the first whistle, and the challenge in front of the Galaxy becomes even stiffer. 

Now, before I get the anxiety levels too high, let’s talk about some of the key points to keep an eye on Tuesday night.

I have had the opportunity to see the Galaxy several times over the past few weeks in both practice and games.  The word that I have heard most from both the coaches and players so far has been depth.  That is the case in every aspect of the field for the 2011 squad.  Offensively, goals will come from a number of different places this year, in contrast to last season when Edson Buddle did most of the scoring. It was a sad day when Buddle announced he was leaving to play in Germany. But that expression quickly changed once news that Juan Pablo Angel had signed with the Galaxy surfaced.  The Colombian has been one of the most consistent scorers in MLS since he arrived in New York four years ago.  I expect Chad Barrett to join Angel up top.  I don’t know that Barrett has ever played with this much talent around him during his time with both Chicago and Toronto.

In the midfield, Juninho is one of a group of players that will be expected to make big leaps forward from their contributions a year ago. The central midfielder just might end up being the most talked about player seven months from now.  The young Brazilian looks stronger on the ball, more vocal with teammates and no one ever doubted his ability to play the dangerous through ball.  Juninho will likely line-up next to Chris Birchall in the middle of the field, a player that can cover a lot of ground.  This will be the first time that Birchall enters the year with a clear-cut role in LA’s line-up.  The Trinidad & Tobago International will sit in front of the back four, gobble up any loose balls and occasionally unleash a long distance bomb on target from time to time.  His ability to win the ball, and cover a ton of real estate allows Juninho substantial freedom going forward. And what can I say about David Beckham and Landon Donovan that hasn’t been said already?

Defensively, expect much of the same from a year ago when LA had one of the tightest backlines in the league.  Depth will be a huge factor in this part of the team as well.  I expect the Galaxy to line–up exactly as they did a year ago in the opening game of the year— with Todd Dunivant, Leonardo, Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin comprising the defenders and Donovan Ricketts in the net.  New addition Frankie Hejduk and third year player A.J. DeLaGarza should be the first two off the bench on the defensive side of the ball.  While veteran defender Gregg Berhalter, who added a new title to his business, assistant coach, is always a great organizer in the back. Berhalter will have to use that skill from the sidelines in the beginning of the year, as he nurses an MCL sprain to begin the season.

But enough about LA, what about their competition for First Kick? 

Well, the Sounders still have a very talented group heading into 2011.  The primary weapons for coach Sigi Schmid are the same in Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani and Blaise Nkufo.  A lot of eyes, including my own will be interested to see how Nkufo will do with an entire season on the Sounders.  Osvaldo Alonso will hold down the middle of the field, and I expect MLS newcomer, Erik Friberg to join Alonso in the middle.  Friberg brings several years of experience playing in Scandinavia to Seattle, which leads me to expect a very technical player that has no problem filling in the gaps for other players to shine. 

No question the match will be full of excitement. 

The Galaxy have a fantastic opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the league that they have not skipped a beat.  LA has been one of the most successful teams for the past two years in MLS, but the players will be quick to tell you they have their eyes set on getting a championship this year.  Not that they didn’t in the past, but speaking with some of the guys over the last few weeks, there is a great feeling of excitement and optimism around this team.  Step one of the overall goal can be accomplished Tuesday in one of the toughest places for visiting teams to play. Then, and only then, can LA move onto step two, which is the home opener Sunday against New England at The Home Depot Center.

Video: Match Preview

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2011 LA Galaxy Preview
LA driven to win championship in 2011
Countdown to Kickoff
Saunders ready to step in if needed